North Adams School Committee Approves Superintendent Search Panel
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Thursday took the first steps in finding a new superintendent by approving a search committee and job description.
The city hopes to have a new superintendent of schools in place by July 1 to replace James Montepare, who is retiring after more than 40 years in the school system.
The Massachusetts Association of School Committees is providing technical assistance and will be doing a first pass on applicants to ensure their qualifications and eligibility, but it will be up to the 11-member search committee to narrow the field to a few finalists to recommend to the School Committee.
Appointed on Thursday to the search committee are community members Maria "Toni" Diamond, Mary Lou Accetta and Howard "Jake" Eberwein. Parents appointed are the Rev. David Anderson and Jennifer Bernard. The administration and staff representatives are Greylock Principal Sandy Cote, 21st Century Site Coordinator Noella Carlow, Drury High teacher Stephanie Kopala, Colegrove Park teacher James Holmes and school Building and Facilities Manager James "Matt" Neville. City Councilor Joshua Moran was appointed to the committee by council President Benjamin Lamb.
Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger expressed some disappointment that the committee was heavily weighted to the educational side, noting that the three community members had academic backgrounds while there were only two parents.
Diamond is a retired Berlin, N.Y., superintendent who grew up in North Adams and returned seven or eight years ago; Acetta is special education director at McCann Technical School who left the School Committee last year and Eberwein is dean of graduate and continuing education at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and former superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools.
Anderson, pastor of First Baptist Church, has a child at Colegrove Park and Bernard, a psychologist with the Brien Center, has a child at Drury High.
Other than the parents, "there isn't a community representative," she said, feeling the committee should have had more input from other district partners.
"I think of a community as more like our business partners, like Mass MoCA or a social service agency integrated with our programs," she said. "I just wanted to put it out there."
School Committee member John Hockridge was more concerned with having five of the 11 members employees of the school district.
"I know the School Committee at the end makes the choice but here are staff who are in effect interviewing and choosing their boss," he said. "It seems a little uncomfortable to me."
Mayor Richard Alcombright responded that the School Committee would do the hiring and that having staff and faculty on the search committee was the norm.
The template for the committee had been provided by the MASC and in consultation with district's point person there, Patricia Correira, he said.
The mayor said he also had tried to appoint representatives in line with the School Committee's discussion of committee's makeup. Ensuring that MCLA was represented, for example.
Initially, there had been three school district representatives but the number was bumped up to five, with the teachers being nominated in consultation with the NATA.
"There's a broad spectrum of the district with all the schools having a voice," said the mayor.
The MASC advised not seating a serving School Committee member because the committee should be the final voice on the candidates.
"It just gives one person on the committee a skewed interest coming in when the committee gets the three or four finalists," said Alcombright.
Boulger said she was "pleasantly surprised" with the people serving but wanted her concerns on the makeup of the committee to be noted.
"My biggest concern was there would be a lot of conflicts but most of these people seem pretty neutral," she said.
The committee also approved the language of the job posting, which will be posted online by MASC and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
The only language quibble was over retaining "eligible for licensure" in Massachusetts or requiring candidates to be already licensed. It was decided to leave the language so as not lose good, potential candidates. Montepare also noted that superintendents applying from New York or Vermont would fall under "eligible for licensure."
The salary range was set at $125,000 to $135,000, with benefits to be negotiated. The current salary is $129,495. Boulger noted that hiring a new superintendent would put that person close to what Montepare was leaving at.
Alcombright said it was critical to have a competitive salary or "we aren't going to be able to compete for qualified candidates." MASC had suggested starting closer to $128,00, but he felt it should be lower.
He said the surrounding district salaries are: Berkshire Hills $141,000 (1,307 students); Lenox $115,000 (732); Pittsfield $157,000 (5,608); Williamstown-Lanesborough $150,000 (1,204) and Adams-Cheshire $117,000 (1,361). North Adams has 1,463 students.
"It's a balancing act between finding a qualified candidate and what we can afford," said Hockridge. "I thought we would have to go higher than that."
Community members are encouraged to take a brief, anonymous survey to indicate those skills they believe are most important in a new superintendent for North Adams. The committee will discuss the findings on Feb. 8 with Correira.
"This is the most important hire we are ever going to do," said Alcombright. "This is the most important job in the city of North Adams, this is the investment ... We need to do everything we can to get the best qualified candidate."
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